Smart players must work with referees
Rowly Williams,
September 8, 2011
South Africa's John Smit protests to referee George Clancy following a yellow card for Jacque Fourie, Australia v South Africa, Tri-Nations, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Australia, July 24, 2010
Irish referee George Clancy will take charge of the Rugby World Cup opener between New Zealand and Tonga on Friday night © Getty Images
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The 2011 Rugby World Cup is almost upon us but the opening salvos have already been fired by a variety of individuals and organisations with one clear objective - to enlighten the International Rugby Board's elite referee manager Paddy O'Brien and his team of officials as to how games should be managed during the sport's showpiece tournament.

Interestingly, the World Cup warm-up matches and Tri-Nations clashes were completed before folk commented or 'simply offered' their thoughts to various media outlets. This allowed those interested parties to look at the stats of the matches and who was penalised where, when and for what. It will have allowed them to observe not only opposition teams but even a particular referee with a particular style and then comment accordingly - but in very general terms of course.

These comments are always made for the good of the game of course, and the fact that it highlights the perceived transgressions of opposition teams, whilst highlighting their own faultless following of the laws of the game is, well, pure coincidence surely?

The belief can only be that referees read, watch, listen to and consume every morsel coming from these sources and will adjust their refereeing to suit them. If only they knew! It's not only the players who stay in a bubble to stay focussed you know.

O'Brien has of course announced his own areas of concern with a fairly forthright comment about various feet 'coming off the throat'. It has been reported that he has briefed his team of referees and urged them to focus on (or re-focus actually) the following: The Breakdown; Offside; The Scrum; The Maul and Foul play.

He wants referees to tighten up in these areas, which when you think about it are pretty much the core areas of the game. It is hoped that this should deter those who wish to try and influence events and offer them nowhere to go, but it won't stop them trying. You can be sure of that.

The breakdown of course starts invariably with a tackle and Law 15 outlines the responsibilities of the tackler, tackled player and arriving players and then there is the offside line that needs to be policed.

Of the five areas targeted by O'Brien, this one will create most comment and probably the vast majority of angst amongst watching coaches and supporters who will see their players horribly done by, for reasons they can't fathom.

However, there is another way, a path to clarity in the form of a well contested but legal breakdown. It can even perhaps be added to the list of priorities that will ensure the tournament goes swimmingly. We're talking about Player Compliance.

"Player X roll away/release/stay onside now" means just that, "Now"… Not, " Player X roll away in your own good time"

Comply and a referee can keep the penalty count and his own 'intrusion' into the game to a minimum. Fail to comply and expect a 30 plus penalty match littered with yellow cards. Players must adapt to the refereeing style in order to prosper, simply doing their own thing because it's what they've always done, just won't be smart and will ultimately affect the team's chances of keeping 15 players throughout the 80 minutes.

So ultimately it really will be the players and not referees who will determine the outcome of a team's success in the tournament.

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